A Look Can Say So Much

 Written By: Dewey Wilson, Ph.D.



Did you know that research has proven it typically takes less than one second for a person to make a judgment based solely on what they perceive in the facial expressions of the other person? If so, what does the look on your face communicate to others? If asked, would those whom you interact with consistently say you sometimes seem to be wearing a mask?

Years ago, I discovered the Greek term for the word mask is persona. No where was this better illustrated than in Greek theatrical presentations almost 3000 years ago. Greek plays often drew very large crowds in open-air theaters. In order for those furthest away from the stage to successfully follow the story line, actors would hold up very large masks in front of their face that depicted the expressions of a particular character. These large masks also enabled a single actor to play many different roles, sending different impressions to the audience by simply swapping masks and assuming the “persona” of another.

Over the years in counseling, I have witnessed a lot of arguments ensue from one spouse accusing the other of ill intentions based on their expression. In almost every instance where the individual truly did not have bad intentions despite their expressions, it was extremely difficult for them to convince their spouse otherwise. This often fueled a lack of trust and became a huge obstacle to overcome before effective communication could take place.

If you notice others don’t seem to track along when you're communicating, or they often respond with frustration or even stare at you like a cow looking at a new gate, you might consider the following:

  1. Take time to prepare your thoughts and responses. Consider rehearsing what you want to say in front of a mirror.

  2. Ask the people closest to you whether your expressions convey what you are trying to say. Ask them to be totally honest and be willing to accept their criticism.

  3. Slow down when speaking. Those who talk fast also tend to be very expressive.

  4. Smile more often when speaking, even when you are talking on the phone. Facial expressions are learned over time. Consistently rehearsing new behavior tends to help create new habits more quickly.

  5. Positive expressions motivate others. Spouses consistently tell me that they stopped doing small things for their husband or wife mainly because he or she often appeared angry or mad and seldom used encouraging words like "thank you."

At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His audience that their yes should be yes and no should be no (Matthew 5:37). The same could be applied to how we communicate to others. Our words, and actions, should always be clear and consistent with our countenance.